October 4, 2010 - 12:00am

A majority of Palestinians would want to withdraw from Middle East peace negotiations if Israel continues to build settlements in the West Bank, according to a public opinion poll published Monday.

The poll, conducted by the Ramallah-based Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research, found that 66 per cent of participants supported that position.

The survey was taken directly after Israel's 10-month partial freeze on settlement construction in the West Bank expired on September 26, but before the Palestinian Authority decided on Saturday not to return to the negotiations without an extension of the moratorium.

The poll also showed that more than half of the respondents supported an attack on Israeli settlers in the West Bank that left four dead on the eve of the direct Palestinian-Israeli negotiations being relaunched.

At the same time, half believed the attack - for which the armed wing of the Islamist group Hamas, the Izzeddin al-Qassam Brigades, has claimed responsibility - was meant mainly to derail the efforts to start the peace talks.

However, Hamas' popularity has not increased, despite the attack and a crackdown on its members by Palestinian security forces, the poll found.

The crackdown has been met with widespread public opposition, as has the decision to conduct peace talks with Israel. But neither has affected the popularity of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, according to the poll.

It said that if elections were held today, Abbas would get 57 per cent of the vote, compared to the 54 per cent he received last June. Hamas leader Ismail Haniye, the Gaza Strip's prime minister, would receive 36 per cent of the vote, down from 39 per cent.


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